A-Z Challenge

#AtoZChallenge: I is for Imply and Infer

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

I is for Imply and Infer

imply infer

Inference:  a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning (Oxford Dictionaries)

Implying: indicate the truth or existence of (something) by suggestion rather than explicit reference (Oxford Dictionaries)

Inference is a device used in writing where a reader reaches conclusions based on the information given in a text, information that implies certain things. As a writer, you don’t need to ‘tell’ a reader everything. You should trust your reader to make inferences using the words, phrases and symbols you have provided. For example:

Jack groaned as he forced his eyes open, rubbing his temples. The screech of his phone made his ears ring. He reached across the rumpled sheets to the cluttered chair that stood next to his bed, searching for the device, his arm catching the half-empty bottle of scotch and sending it clattering to the floor.

So what is the writer implying? And what can the reader infer? We can infer lots about Jack and what he has been up to. The writer is implying that he has a hangover. We haven’t been told this but can infer it from him forcing his eyes open (he is tired – late night?), he is rubbing his temples (sore head?) and that there is a half empty bottle of scotch by the bed (has he polished off the other half?). We can also infer that he is either poor or not very house-proud – he has a chair by the bed rather than a bedside table or nightstand. We even know that he doesn’t have a carpeted floor.

We infer all this without being told, and this information is given in a way that (I hope) is more entertaining than simply listing these facts about Jack. So – trust your reader, give them little snippets of your characters’ lives, in realistic situations that readers recognise and identify with (although I’m not implying for one moment that we’ve all woken up with a half bottle of scotch next to us… but you can infer what you like!) and let them draw their own conclusions.

Any tips for successful writing? Do share them by leaving a comment below.

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#A-Z Challenge: H is for Homophones

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

H is for Homophones

homophones

A homophone is a word that is pronounced in the same way as another word, but has a different meaning and may be spelt differently. They can cause writers, and in turn their readers, confusion.

One common example of this is ‘there’, ‘their’ and they’re’. Since I’ve been editing I’ve been surprised by how many people get this wrong. It isn’t always that a writer doesn’t know the difference, but often the wrong word has been used accidently and just hasn’t been picked up. But if you use the wrong version in your published book, readers will think you don’t know what you’re talking about (there’s another one – your and you’re) and will lose their trust in you and your book.

So, just in case:

  • there – refers to a place or is used with the verb to be: ‘There is a lion in the zoo; look, it’s over there.’
  • their – shows possession. ‘It is their lion.’
  • they’re – the contraction of ‘they are’. ‘They are looking at their lion.’

Other homophones I’ve come across are:

  • waive and wave
  • for, four and fore
  • to, too and two
  • discreet and discrete
  • wrings and ring (‘she was ringing her hands’ should be ‘she was wringing her hands’)
  • fazes and phases

Of course, the words may be spelt the same but have a different meaning (like the example in the cartoon above).

One of the best ways to make sure you’re using the right word is to have someone else read over your work, whether that’s a beta reader, a fellow writer or an editor. Sometimes we’re so close to our work that we don’t notice these relatively simple errors. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference.

Spotted any amusing or weird homophones? Do tell me about them by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: G is for Guilt

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

G is for Guilt

guilt

If you spend any amount of time writing, whether for pleasure or for work, then the chances are that you probably feel guilty.

  • Guilty about writing when the house is a tip
  • Guilty for doing some research when the dog is pleading for a walk
  • Guilty for stopping to look at Facebook when you have a deadline looming
  • Guilty for popping out to the Costa drive-thru when you fancy a soya latte
  • Guilty for doing something you enjoy, that makes you happy, when there are a hundred and one other things to do that will make you miserable instead (ironing, washing, cooking, paying bills)
  • Guilty for not earning enough to justify what you’re doing
  • Guilty that some days when I’m writing it actually looks a lot like this:

johnny writer gif

Well, it’s time to stop. I have various hats – I’m a freelance editor and writer and I also write novels. All these things mean I work from home (lucky me!) and that sometimes leaves me feeling fraught with guilt. I feel bad if I stop to look at the news, or send a few tweets. But, as my lovely husband keeps reminding me, if I worked in an office, with other people, I wouldn’t be at my desk for the whole seven or eight hours, head down, talking to no one.

I’ve also been made to feel guilty if I don’t answer the phone, or don’t drop everything because someone ‘urgently’ needs me to do something. I get the distinct feeling sometimes that some people think, because I’m working from home, I don’t have a real job, it can’t be that important and I can just drop whatever I’m doing if I want to. But I AM AT WORK!!! And, if you are writing, so are you – whether you earn enough to pay the mortgage or just enough to buy a muffin to go with that soya latte.

Do you feel guilty about spending time writing? Share your stories by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: F is for Flashbacks

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

F is for Flashbacks

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A flashback is a scene interjected in the narrative that takes the story back to a previous time from the current point in the story. The use of flashbacks can be fraught with problems, but if done properly they can be very useful and effective for providing background information and bringing your reader closer to your characters.

So how do you get them right?

  • Make sure a flashback follows a strong scene. Flashbacks can be problematic in that they remove your character and therefore your reader from the action in your narrative. A strong preceding scene can ensure that the narrative is sustained.
  • Ensure your reader knows exactly where and when they are. Make the transition into the past clear.
  • Use the correct verb tense. If your main narrative is written in past tense, then the first few sentences of the flashback should be in past perfect. You can then continue in simple past.
  • When the flashback is over, make sure the transition to the ‘present’ of the narrative is smooth and clear, so that your reader isn’t confused or disorientated.
  • Acknowledge the flashback. It should have an effect on the character who experienced it and on the narrative.

If you are going to use flashbacks in your novel, then do your research. Read lots of novels that use the device and use it well. For example, J.K. Rowling uses a ‘Penseive’ in the Harry Potter novels – a stone basin in which a viewer can be immersed in memories. In Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’, the plot is largely told through flashbacks, mostly using storytelling. In Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, the primary narrator is eighty-three when we meet her, but we hear about her younger self through flashbacks.

How do you feel about flashbacks in novels? Do you love them or hate them? Do let me know by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: E is for Exposition

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

E is for Exposition

spongebob

Exposition is important in a manuscript – it gives us vital background information about a character’s past, their likes and dislikes, their beliefs and motivations as well as historical context and details about prior events. But the crucial thing about exposition is that it needs to be handled very carefully – it’s the way that you do it that matters.

You need to ‘show’ your reader information, not simply ‘tell’ them. This way you ‘expose’ the back story without being boring. And some of the best ways to do this are through dialogue, conflict, revealing a character’s thoughts and using physical props such as newspapers, letters and emails.

For example, have your characters talk to each other  about events that have happened, what those events meant to them, how they felt and reacted to those events.  But a word of warning. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know.

Writers are often tempted to tell their readers too much – to spoon-feed information. They don’t seem to trust the reader to put the elements together themselves and to draw conclusions. Don’t be that sort of writer – don’t patronise your reader. Remember you don’t have to explain everything – and you don’t have to explain it all at one.

Any thoughts on exposition? Do share them by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: D is for Dialogue

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

D is for Dialogue

dialogue

Getting dialogue right is hugely important. Dialogue drives plot forward, enhances character development, and reveals emotion and motivation.

So how do you write effective dialogue?

  • Be nosy. Listen in to other people’s conversations and make a note of how they speak. You’ll notice elements like contractions (hasn’t, didn’t etc.), figures of speech and turn-taking that occur in natural speech.
  • Read your dialogue out loud. This really helps to make sure that it sounds natural rather than forced and contrived.
  • Don’t be too natural though! Your reader doesn’t want to hear all the repetitions and pauses that go along with actual speech. Cut these bits out and get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the plot.
  • Don’t use a variety of dialogue tags. ‘Chuckled’, ‘proclaimed’, ‘bellowed’ etc. just sound as though you’re desperately trying to think of a different word to ‘said’ or asked’. Which you probably are.
  • Avoid exposition. Although dialogue can be used to reveal information and move the plot along, don’t fall into the trap of having your characters discussing things they already know. Be very careful to ensure that readers do not feel that dialogue is being used simply to let them (the reader) know certain facts. Let the reader ascertain things from what your character is saying. Trust your readers – don’t force feed them details.
  • Read. Anyone who is serious about writing needs to read. A lot. And reading someone else’s work can help a great deal when it comes to writing dialogue. When you come across dialogue that works really well, work out how the writer did that. And when dialogue doesn’t work, again, work out what went wrong. You’ll then know what to do and what not to do when it comes to your own work.

Do you have any hints or tips to share about writing dialogue? Please share by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: C is for Characterisation

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For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

C is for Characterisation

character

Characters can drive a novel. Their problems, crises and development can bring a reader in, enthrall, excite and even inspire. The conflicts and dilemmas your characters face, their feelings, thoughts and actions should be at the heart of your novel. So how do you create a character your readers will want to follow?

  • You don’t have to like your characters. Your readers don’t need to feel sympathetic or to relate to them. There are plenty of fascinating anti-heroes out there. What matters is that your readers are drawn into the world of your character. Get inside your character’s head, and let your reader in there too.
  • Know your character. What drives them? What do they want? What do they need? What do they like? What do they hate? Understand your character and their motivations.
  • Don’t bombard your reader with lots of description of a character’s physical appearance, likes and dislikes etc. Show the character through actions, dialogue, thoughts, body language and the reactions other characters have to the main character.
  • Give your characters flaws. Don’t make them perfect.
  • Avoid stereotypes and clichés. Not all prostitutes have hearts of gold. Not all vegans are sandal-wearing hippies. You get the idea.
  • Keep your characters true to themselves. Let their actions be realistic for who they are.

Remember, your characters need to be real in your mind to make them real on the page.

Got any tips about characterisation? Please share them by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: B is for Boring, boring, boring….

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For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

B is for Boring, boring, boring….

bored

Your job as a writer is to entertain, inform and engage your reader. If this isn’t your goal, then you may be in the wrong job. You don’t want to bore your reader or they’ll simply close your book and go and find another one on Amazon (there are millions to choose from after all). So how do you avoid sending your reader to sleep?

  • Increase the pace. You can do this by using a variety of sentence and paragraph lengths. Short sentences will add drama, suspense and pace, moving your reader forward with your character.
  • Get rid of passive voice. Passive voice can be too wordy and can put a distance between your reader and your words.
  • Include drama, conflict and events. You’re writing fiction. Things need to happen. Your characters need to have experiences and develop, change and be affected by what is happening.
  • Ditch the clichés. Clichés are boring, lazy and add nothing to your writing. If your work is riddled with clichés you are showing no respect at all to the readers who will invest time and money in your book. Give them something fresh, something new.
  • Be honest with yourself. Do you need all that description? All those lovely adverbs and adjectives? All those clever, clever metaphors? Who are they for?
  • Read, read, read. And when you’re reading make a note of what bores you as well as what excites you. Learn from other writers – from their mistakes as well as their successes.

How do you keep your writing exciting? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment below.

#A-Z Challenge: A is for Action

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For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing. Today, I’m looking at writing action scenes.

A is for Action

action

Action scenes don’t necessarily mean huge battles, violence, gunfights or crime. While this might be the case in Hollywood blockbusters, action scenes are important in your fiction – they create drama, interest, allow characters to develop and move your plot forward.

An action scene can involve something as seemingly simple as an unexpected phone call or a surprise visitor. What’s important is to carry your reader along with the action, and to write scenes that move your characters forward, building tension and giving your characters opportunities to develop and grow.

Here are a few tips for writing effective action scenes:

  • Have events happen in real time. This helps your reader feel involved in the scene and brings them closer to a character.
  • Use physical movements but don’t describe every single action in great detail.
  • Have your character make quick decisions and react quickly to the situation/event.
  • Minimise dialogue, especially if it creates a pause in the action.
  • Choose the verbs you use carefully for maximum effect.
  • If you’re having trouble visualising the actions involved in the scene, act it out! (It helps if you can get someone else to join in!)
  • Read other writers and see how they write successful or unsuccessful action scenes. What didn’t work can be as important as what did work.
  • Keep it real. Unless you’re writing fantasy, where anything is physically possibly, keep the scenes within the bounds of reality (see acting it out above!)

Got any tips for writing action scenes? Do let me know by posting a comment below.